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Putting a little oy in the goy

In 'Jewtopia,' a Gentile immerses himself in another culture. It's funny, if slender.

May 16, 2003|Philip Brandes | Special to The Times

So why should a nice Gentile boy named Chris O'Connell be so obsessed with dating Jewish girls that he enlists his childhood friend Adam Lipschitz to help him find one at any cost? Simple -- it's the Lure of Least Resistance: Chris is convinced that life with a princess means never having to make a decision about anything ever again.

From this slender but serviceable premise comes "Jewtopia," a raucous, merciless skewering of contemporary Jewish foibles, neuroses and stereotypes starring coauthors Bryan Fogel (as Chris) and Sam Wolfson (as Adam). Enlisting "Reefer Madness" creator Andy Fickman as director ensures an equal-opportunity satire, with something to offend everyone.

Chris' aspirations to complete passivity paradoxically inspire his superhuman efforts to infiltrate Adam's culture as a self-proclaimed "Jewish Donnie Brasco," even if it means the ultimate sacrifice -- circumcision. Under Adam's Mephistophelian guidance through the fine points of psychosomatic ailments, driving waiters crazy by altering menu items beyond recognition and shopping below retail, Chris proves a quick study, soon surpassing his teacher in kvetching ability.

In return, Adam gets Chris to help him construct a quartet of Internet personas -- Sporting Jew, Art Jew, Club Jew and Old School Jew -- to solve his own dating drought.

In a resulting succession of Dates From Hell, the remarkably versatile Jackie Tohn steals the show as the women Adam meets online, and later as his sulking kid sister in the show's most hilarious scene -- a family Seder at Adam's parents' home. At the gathering, Chris passes himself off as a full-fledged Jew, and Adam arrives with his new Asian girlfriend (Irina Pantaeva) in tow -- to the suitably melodramatic mortification of his mother (Lin Shaye), who serves dinner with abundant side helpings of guilt. Alan Charof and Lorry Goldman round out the cast.

Self-confessed nice Jewish boys themselves ("We were bar mitzvahed and everything"), Fogel and Wolfson know their territory well and assault it with unflagging comic energy, but allot more stage time to shtick-laden banter between themselves than their range and material can sustain. In its present form, the show needs some firm editing, but when it hits its mark -- which is frequently -- it's outrageously funny.



Where: Coast Playhouse, 8325 Santa Monica Blvd., West Hollywood

When: Thursdays-Saturdays, 8 p.m.; Sundays, 3 p.m.

Ends: June 15

Price: $20-$25

Contact: (800) 595-4849

Running time: 2 hours, 20 minutes

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